IN a landmark resolution, Prime Minister Imran Khan approved funds for the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. The decision has been hailed as a step in the right direction, creating a pluralistic and tolerant Pakistan, in line with the vision of this nation’s creator. It follows in the wake of other encouraging acts, such as the reopening of an ancient temple in Sialkot, which had been sealed for 72 years; and the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor, which allowed Sikh pilgrims to cross the border and visit one of their religion’s holiest sites. But despite these progressive steps, Pakistan is no sanctuary for religious minorities, and contradictions and hypocrisies abound. The misuse of the blasphemy law disproportionately targets religious minority groups and individuals, and provides cover for extrajudicial violence. There are continued instances of forced conversions and marriages of minority women and underage girls. Minority places of worship have also been attacked or ransacked by terrorist groups and unruly mobs in recent years.
In this wave of religious intolerance and opportunism, Muslims are not spared either. As noted in a recent op-ed in this paper, religiosity continues to grow in the country, often aided or enabled by the state. Only recently, the Punjab government sent a notification making university graduation in the public sector conditional on studying the Quran, even though a law mandating the study of the Holy Book in the province’s educational institutes is already in force. Such actions cannot create a more religious, moral or law-abiding society; they only lead to an artificial sense of religiosity, allowing the self-righteous to persecute others on the basis of not being ‘good’ or not ‘good enough Muslims’, and create distraction from pressing issues. Aside from serving as a place of worship and gathering for the Hindu community, the recent decision to build a new temple in the capital city provides deep symbolic value, but until the root of intolerance and bigotry is not removed, symbolic actions will not amount to lasting societal change.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2020